Tourism Board’s Responsibilities Outlined

OCEAN CITY – The long-awaited Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was presented yesterday to the Mayor and City Council by the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB).

“The last time TAB was before the council we were tasked with crafting a MOU that outlined the specific responsibilities of the Tourism Advisory Board, the council and the city,” TAB Chair Melanie Pursel said.

TAB was formed following the 2010 elections when the council voted to dissolve the Tourism Commission, along with other sub-committees of city government.

The purpose of the MOU between the town and TAB is to illustrate the responsibilities of both parties with regard to the destination marketing funds advised by TAB.

According to the MOU, TAB’s responsibilities include identifying, reviewing, and recommending events, promotional items and opportunities to increase tourism. Recommendations will be for future or existing events, and promotions that bring significant visitation to Ocean City, extended stays or provide an enhanced, value-added experience for visitors.

Also, it states having clear policies and procedures for collecting and soliciting, reviewing and recommending expenditures to the council, including the requirement for each applicant to include a detailed budget and project narrative. All applicants fill out an application for funding which is reviewed by TAB.

The MOU also includes that all expenditures are approved by the Mayor and City Council, provide economic impact figures of events that have been supported by the town, and attend work sessions to keep the town abreast of the progress of various approved events and projects.

Council President Jim Hall added that he has scheduled TAB to come before the Mayor and City Council every second work session of every month.

“You will be set for once a month,” he said. “You will have time on the agenda for an update or report from TAB … because it is important to us,” he said.

The town’s responsibilities are to provide annual funding in the amount of $300,000 to invest in new or existing events, marketing opportunities, promotions that generate visitation, extended stays and value added experiences for existing visitors. This would be a two-year commitment and reviewed every two years.

Also, the town will allow dollars not used in one fiscal year to be rolled over to the next fiscal year, process all payments, once approved, through city accounts following purchasing requirements, ensure that all purchase orders will be obtained by the city and payments issued directly to the vendors, ensure that all payments be processed in a timely manner, and include events on website, consider during any public relation or media tours and on any collateral materials where appropriate.

Before the MOU could become approved, Councilman Joe Hall felt the makeup of TAB needed to be augmented.

“I do believe the members that are serving on TAB are part of the business community and are high quality, but because these funds come from on-island properties and are generated from the hospitality of the industry on-island and that we need to have some stakeholder representation on that board,” he said.

Joe Hall added that each stakeholder should represent each industry of the town such as, a hotel, motel, restaurant, amusement and entertainment, retail, vacation rentals and a citizen.

Pursel eased his concerns when she said the board is already in the works in looking to expand their membership, and board members have been assigned to return to their next meeting with recommended names for new members.

“Our participation as Mayor and City Council will be on that Tuesday here at the meeting once a month and you will have all of us here at the same time,” Jim Hall said.

Councilwoman Mary Knight added that it is imperative that the Ocean City Director of Tourism be included on TAB and have a vote, and TAB agreed although Councilwoman Margaret Pillas did not. She felt that the tourism director should not have an influence on the stakeholders involved with the board.

Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out that Pursel and TAB member Susan Jones, executive director of OCHMRA, are staff members as well.

“I think they are represented the same way that the tourism director is represented,” he said.

Pursel said TAB will return to the Mayor and City Council with a slate of potential members, and which members would be voting members.

“We’ll hash it out and get all the best members for it,” Jim Hall said. “We have good members now and all we are going to do is add one from each sector to that. I think it is a great idea.”

Attached to the MOU was a revised copy of TAB’s event application for funding.

“We did come up with some changes to the application for funding,” Pursel said. “Some additional criteria have been added just so there is a clear understanding of the intent of the earmarked funding for TAB that is city funds and that need to be approved by the City Council.”

According to the Application for Tourism Development Grant, all projects must have a detailed budget attached specifying the amount requested Projects will be rated on the ability to leverage additional funds or overall budget, the economic impact, its target market, the geographic location of the event, and the uniqueness and ability to attract visitors.

Knight expressed concern that the application did not provide a requirement for applicants to provide financial credentials and made a motion to include the review of financial stability, leveraging, as well as limiting an event’s funding to one year, excluding contracted events. The council voted unanimously to approve the amendment.

Joe Hall made a motion to move forward supporting the application of funding with the items amended, as well as accept the MOU with the items discussed incorporated into the final draft. The council voted unanimously to approve.

“I am looking forward to you coming back with a slate of officers to welcome to the team,” Joe Hall said.

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